Explore Fascinating African-American Heritage in the Nation’s Capital

National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Marquis Perkins

Looking for a way to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the Black experience in the U.S.? A great place to start is right in our nation’s capital, where you’ll dig deeper into the lives and meaningful actions of many icons of the Civil Rights and abolitionist movements and discover more heroes along the way. This itinerary provides a three-day immersive journey into African American culture, creativity, and community, past and present—plus, artistic and culinary sojourns exploring parts of Africa itself. No matter what your ethnic background, this is a trip that will stimulate and enlighten long after you return home.

Trip Designer

Visit Washington, DC

Visit Washington, DC is your capital travel expert, offering access to some of the world's best—and free!—museums, neighborhoods with homegrown businesses and diverse communities and events, festivals, and performances you'll find no place else. Visit Washington DC wants to make sure your next trip to Washington, DC is one for the history books.

Trip Highlight

A monument fit for Dr. King

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial stands as a worthy tribute to the core values Dr. King stood for. Chances are, the Memorial will beckon you to make a return visit—it’s that epic, and especially awe-inspiring after nightfall.
Blues Alley jazz club in the Georgetown neighborhood

Blues Alley jazz club in the Georgetown neighborhood

Marquis Perkins

DAY 1Beacons on the National Mall

The charming Akwaaba DC Bed & Breakfast has myriad reasons for serving as this itinerary’s ideal home-away-from-home. Black-owned and with guest rooms named after great authors (Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes), it’s housed in a picturesque 1890s townhouse, conveniently located a mile from the White House and a ten-minute walk from the Dupont Circle Metro Station.

Start your tour by paying a visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Take the Metro to the Smithsonian stop and walk 15-20 minutes. The figure of Dr. King appears to emerge from a monumental slab of granite, the “Stone of Hope,” in reference to a line from his “I Have a Dream” speech. A magnificent, Rushmore-esque tribute to the great civil rights leader, carved by sculptor Lei Yixin, it’s even more breathtaking by night. The first federal memorial to honor a non-president and a person of color, the Memorial covers four acres and is open to the public 24 hours a day.

Head to the Lincoln Memorial, where the 16th president is not the only charismatic leader honored by the site. On the memorial’s iconic steps, you’ll find an engraved plaque marking the precise spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech—among the most iconic speeches ever delivered in U.S. history. On August 28, 1963, Dr. King spoke his truth to more than 250,000 civil rights supporters from those steps, and his words continue to reverberate loud and clear today, almost six decades later.

If a pick-me-up is needed, walk about 12 minutes to The Sweet Lobby on Barracks Row in Capitol Hill. A Black-owned boutique bakery, its founder, Dr. Winnette McIntosh-Ambrose, is a PhD in engineering and a winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, with a flair for French confections. Macarons and éclairs anyone?

Next up is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, an institution that’s simultaneously making and celebrating history. It’s the first museum ever to focus on connoisseurship of culture past and present through the lens of African Americans. Prepare to stay awhile, and to be blown away. Collections document art, history, and culture, with an astonishing set of artifacts that tell the story of African Americans, from the African Diaspora to today.

Wind down this long day of discovery by celebrating the nation’s great art form known as jazz. Located in Georgetown, Blues Alley is the world’s longest-running jazz supper club, about which the great Dizzy Gillespie once opined, “Now this is a jazz club.”
U Street

U Street

Jason Dixson

DAY 2Discover more icons of equal rights

Across the Anacostia River, the Anacostia Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places, is home to Cedar Hill, the estate of the great Frederick Douglass. Watch an inspiring film about the abolitionist’s life and take a tour, gaining access to the handsome library where the famous author’s writings took shape is an unforgettable experience for visitors with literary/historical interests. Don’t leave Anacostia without stopping at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum for more insight into African American history and culture. The museum examines the impact of historical and contemporary social issues on urban communities.

Once back on the D.C. “mainland,” stop by Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, the oldest continuously Black-owned property in downtown Washington. Constructed by black artisans in 1886, this beautiful, exalting structure is open to the public. Now it’s time to learn about more heroes in our nation’s history. In honor of its namesake , educator-presidential-advisor-community-organizer-activist-hero, the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site shows visitors a video presentation about her extraordinary life, dedicated to the tireless pursuit of “unalienable rights of the citizenship for Black Americans.”

Five minutes away is the profoundly moving African American Civil War Memorial, bearing the names of more than 209,000 African American soldiers and their white officers. This is also the address of the African American Civil War Museum, which tells the story of the United States Colored Troops and African American involvement in the American Civil War. (Note: The museum is open by appointment only.)

A short walk to U Street—formerly known as “Black Broadway”—will work up an appetite, and happily brings you to a DC culinary institution. The original location of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a landmark since 1958, is renowned for chili so good it earned a prestigious James Beard award. Moving with the times, Ben’s recently began accommodating vegetarian and vegan diners with plant-based versions of its signature half-smoke and chili dog, whose original recipes haven’t changed since they first set D.C. diners drooling.

The historic Lincoln Theatre, built in 1921, staged performances by international headliners such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Pearl Bailey. Reopened in 1994, the theater now serves as a performing arts center. One metro stop away is Howard University, alma mater of Vice President Kamala Harris. One of the nation’s most distinguished historically black institutions of higher learning, its Howard University Gallery of Art is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive representations of black artists.
DAY 3 HERO_Culture.jpg

National Museum of African Art

Gina Falcone

DAY 3A full day of African American art—and artful food

Start the day by viewing “Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation,” a permanent exhibition at The National Air & Space Museum that celebrates the achievements of, among others, Bessie Coleman, Benjamin O. Davis Jr, and Guion “Guy” Bluford, American heroes of World War II.

Next, head to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, whose mission is to inspire conversations about the beauty, power, and diversity of African arts and cultures worldwide. Its permanent collection comprises more than 12,000 works of art, containing a broad range of works from throughout the continent of Africa and its diaspora, in all media across time periods and geographic origin. Attention modernists and feminists: with more than 10 percent of the collection consisting of works from the 20th and 21st centuries, this museum houses the largest publicly held collection of African art from that era. More than 20 percent of the named artists represented in the collection identify as women—a percentage the museum actively seeks to increase.

Beautifully prepared and presented food is its own artform—for proof, look no further than the Adams Morgan neighborhood. There, an array of delicious African food tantalizes at several Ethiopian eateries, each with its own distinct style. At the first-rate Dukem, scooping up various stews with spongey injera bread is truly a first-class trip for the tastebuds and will leave a happy memory on your lips too.
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